A fascinating story of spirits and conjurors, sceptics and converts in the second half of nineteenth century America viewed through the lives of Kate and Maggie Fox, the sisters whose purported communication with the dead gave rise to the Spiritualism movement - and whose recanting forty years later is still shrouded in mystery.
In March of 1848, Kate and Maggie Fox - sisters aged 11 and 14 - anxiously reported to a neighbour that they had been hearing strange, unidentified sounds in their house. From a sequence of knocks and rattles translated by the young girls as a "voice from beyond", the Modern Spiritualism movement was born.
'Talking To The Dead' follows the fascinating story of the two girls who were catapulted into an odd limelight after communicating with spirits that March night. Within a few years, tens of thousands of Americans were flocking to seances.
An international movement followed. Yet thirty years after those first knocks, the sisters shocked the country by denying they had ever contacted spirits. Shortly after, the sisters once again changed their story and reaffirmed their belief in the spirit world.
Weisberg traces not only the lives of the Fox sisters and their family (including their mysterious Svengali-like sister Leah) but also the social, religious, economic and political climates that provided the breeding ground for the movement. While this is a thorough, compelling overview of a potent time in US history, it is also an incredible ghost story.
Weisberg's curiosity about the lives of Fox sisters and the movement they are inextricably bound to led her "not only to bookstores and libraries, for the 150th Anniversary of Modern Spiritualism in 1998, and to Lily Dale . . . Somewhere along the route, much to my surprise, my interest in Kate and Maggie shifted from the paranormal to the normal, or at least to the social and cultural, aspects of life in the nineteenth century . . . Kate and Maggie not only sparked a movement, their lives epitomised the conflicts and urges that helped fuel its blaze."